HERSHEY, Pa. - As he went down the line, hugging teammates, you could see it all in the eyes of La Salle senior Niko Amato:
The elation. The relief. The pride.
No matter what the outcome of yesterday's game had been, Amato, one of the most decorated lacrosse players in school history, would have left La Salle a winner. But by helping the Explorers beat Conestoga, 7-3, at HersheyPark Stadium, the all-American goalie earned the title of PIAA state champion.
Amato contributed to the Explorers' third state title in six seasons in typical fashion, making 10 saves.
Yet it was all-American midfielder Pete Schwartz who pushed La Salle (21-4) to the inaugural PIAA title with a game-high three goals. Last season and in 2004, the Explorers won the Keystone Cup, signifying the state boys' lacrosse champion. The PIAA took control of the sport for its members this season.
A team effort, with Amato starring in net while others dominated on the field, was a fitting way to win the first PIAA state title.
"It's kind of indescribable right now," Amato said. "It feels great. . . . I have been thinking about this day since the eighth grade."
The Explorers are ranked first in the state by Phillylacrosse.com and are third in the Laxpower.com national rankings. They also are ranked 15th nationally by Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse.
For La Salle, this was a revenge game.
The Pioneers, ranked second in the state, beat the Explorers, 6-3, in the season opener. It was La Salle's only loss to an in-state opponent.
But yesterday, Conestoga (24-2) realized that Schwartz was hard to stop and the Explorers' defense was harder to score on.
Junior midfielder Pete Bowers gave the Pioneers a 3-2 lead with 4 minutes, 7 seconds to play in the second quarter. It was Conestoga's last goal.
When Amato wasn't blocking shots, defenders Mike Noone, Andrew Zbikowski, Tyler Houchins, and all-American Tucker Durkin were denying scoring opportunities.
"They played outstanding defense," said Conestoga's Mike Bronzino, an all-American defender. "We had some looks. We just couldn't capitalize."
With his team trailing, 2-0, the Harvard-bound Schwartz scored with 28 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
His second goal knotted the score at 3-3 with 3:01 left in the second quarter.
Senior attackman Westy Hopkins produced what turned out to be the winning goal 15 seconds before intermission. Schwartz recorded his last goal with 1:57 left in the third quarter to give La Salle a 5-3 advantage.
"I knew as long as we put a couple of goals on the board, they wouldn't let us down," Schwartz said of La Salle's defenders.
Senior attackman Paul Mita led Conestoga, ranked eighth nationally by Laxpower.com. The Villanova recruit scored two goals in the first 5:49 of the game.
La Salle 2 2 1 2 - 7
Conestoga 2 1 0 0 - 3
Goals: LS-Pete Schwartz 3, Westy Hopkins 2, Kevin Forster, Randy Forster. C-Paul Mita 2, Pete Bowers.
Saves: LS-Niko Amato 10. C-Pete Zonino 7.